The right wine can take your Thanksgiving meal from ordinary to extraordinary
Thanksgiving to foodies is like winning the culinary lottery once a year. Whether you choose to enjoy a home-cooked feast with family and friends or experience one of our many wonderful restaurants, finding fabulous cuisine is as easy as, well, pie. What may appear to be more of a challenge, however, is selecting the ideal wines to complement the abundantly diverse range of flavors that grace our dinner plates. The good news is that there really are no bad wine choices, just better ones. If you follow these simple suggestions, you just might discover pairing perfection.
Fans of big, robust reds may not be particularly fond of a simple, sweet White Zinfandel and vice versa. Because the guests at your dinner table will probably be as diverse as the flavors you’re serving, you might consider offering a broad range of wine styles to please every palate.
Styles Should Match
If you plan to serve a delicious yet modest meal of roasted turkey, mashed potatoes and sautéed vegetables, then it’s not necessary to overdo it with a pricey Grand Cru Bordeaux when a simple Beaujolais or nice California Pinot Noir would be an ideal companion. Now, if you are more of a gourmand and your cuisine consists of complex sauces, layers of flavors and exotic ingredients, then serious wines are a better choice.
Light or Heavy?
Generally speaking, lighter dishes will pair more favorably with lighter wines, so it’s important to consider the intensity level of the cuisine you’ll be serving. If traditional turkey, or perhaps even pork or ham, is a mainstay on your table, then consider serving white varietals, such as Sauvignon Blanc or Riesling, a dry Rosé, elegant Pinot Noir or fruit-driven Gamay. But if you’re opting for lamb, beef or venison, then by all means beef up your wine choices by serving a bold Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel or Shiraz.
Unlock Key Flavors
The principal flavors in food are a great indicator of what wines will marry well, so it’s best to either complement or contrast flavors. If your dish is dominated by earthy, rustic flavors, then consider a wine with a similar flavor profile, such as a red from the Rhône Valley or Burgundy. Spicy cuisine is often ideal when paired with spice-driven wines like a Gewurztraminer or Zinfandel, but it also works well with their polar opposite—off-dry, slightly sweet wines like German Riesling or Vouvray. This is why some feel that chocolate and Cabernet Sauvignon are a great match, while others prefer to pair chocolate with Port.
Just like food, the natural progression should be to begin with lighter wines and move to heavier ones. A great way to begin your Thanksgiving celebration is with a delicate, crisp sparkling wine, which typically complements most hors d’oeuvres and whets the appetite. Save intensely flavored Sauternes and Ports for dessert or cheese at the end of the meal.
A Balancing Act
Since most classic Thanksgiving meals revolve around light yet flavorful dishes, it’s important to choose a wine that offers the perfect harmony of acidity and fruit. For whites, consider Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Chenin Blanc or Pinot Gris; for reds, look for ample fruit balanced with soft to moderate tannins, such as Pinot Noir, Syrah, Gamay or Cabernet Franc. And don’t rule out dry Rosés, which are incredibly food friendly and offer an impeccable balance between fruit and acidity.
The classic flavors of Thanksgiving run the gamut from sweet to salty, delicate to robust and creamy to acidic, so making a bad wine choice is virtually impossible. As always, the most important rule of thumb when pairing wine and food is to simply drink what you enjoy. Above all else, Thanksgiving is about sharing good food with great people.
Thanksgiving Wine Picks
Jacob’s Creek Reserve Pinot Noir, $12 This great value offers intense, enticing aromas of sweet cherries and strawberries, with subtle hints of oak. Lush, ripe red berry flavors are perfectly balanced with delicate acidity. Gentle oak tannins complement this fruit-driven style that has a lingering finish and great structure.
Campo Viejo Reserva, Tempranillo, $10
This impeccably well-balanced Spanish wine is soft and fruitforward with a tinge of oak. Rich and round, it is packed with black fruit flavors accented by a touch of spice. On the palate it is silky smooth, with a long velvety finish, yet is still well structured.
Sumaridge Pinot Noir, $26
This serious wine from South Africa shows a deep ruby color and classic elegance in fruit expression. The wine is brimming with dark berries and notes of vanilla spice and clove. The subtle oak character lends a smoky spiciness, which is complemented by smooth tannins that lend a lingering, velvety finish. Recommended by Swirl wine expert Beth Ribblett.
Hillinger Secco, $18
Made from 100% Pinot Noir, this delightful sparkling wine from Austria is a lovely delicate rosé color and possesses an extraordinarily elegant mousse. The bouquet offers hints of fresh red berries, while on the palate it is delicate and lively with wellintegrated acidity and a harmonious, lingering finish. Recommended by Swirl wine expert Beth Ribblett.
Rex Hill Pinot Gris, $20
Beautifully balanced and distinct in character, this is an elegant Pinot Gris, which is full bodied and supple on the palate. Flavors of lemon peel, peach, apple and roasted nuts precede the long, satisfying finish. Recommended by Swirl wine expert Beth Ribblett.
J Lohr Wildflowers Valdiguie, $10
This perfect Thanksgiving wine is not Gamay, but it is very Gamay-like (and even used to be called Napa Gamay). It finds the ideal balance of fruit and acid, low tannins and great . . . What is the word I am searching for? . . . yumminess that goes so well with turkey and its accompaniments. Recommended by Rouses’ wine expert Sunny Groom.
Root 1 Sauvignon Blanc, $11
This Chilean wine has the crisp citric acidity of lemons and limes with a touch of green herbs that make it a natural match for oyster stuffing (I don’t think they have oyster stuffing in Chile, but they’d wish they did if they ever tried the match!). Recommended by Rouses’ wine expert Sunny Groom.
Ravenswood Icon, $15
A Rhône-style blend with Grenache and Syrah, this is one of the best-valued wines in this category. It has smoky bacon and earthy notes that enhance but do not overwhelm the succulent and delicate flavors of a roasted turkey (and it’s good with cranberry sauce too!). Recommended by Rouses’ wine expert Sunny Groom.